It's unusual when a community's most important news story of the year is about something that didn't happen. But the announcement Friday that Fort Gordon is not on the Pentagon's base closure list is likely to be Augusta's biggest story of 2005.
Nothing changes, but it's akin to dodging a bullet. The importance of the story is in averting the disaster that would befall if the bullet had struck.
With all the other infrastructure, social and economic problems our community has, it boggles the mind to think what a nightmare it would be if Fort Gordon - the area's largest employer with a regional economic impact of $1.2 billion a year - was to shut down.
Theoretically, the fort is not entirely out of the woods. There still are several more steps for the Base Realignment and Closure process to go through before it's finalized later in the year. Yet the history of earlier BRACs shows if a base isn't on the first list, it's a very good bet not to be on the last list, either.
Moreover, the advocacy team the fort has in its corner - the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon - isn't going away. It will stick with its "save the fort" mission until BRAC's work is officially completed. Basically, this means whatever happens as the BRAC process grinds through the summer, the fort is as safe as a baby in its mother's arms.
Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., rightly characterizes the CSRA Alliance, headed by Larry DeMeyers and Thom Tuckey, as the best grass-roots operation of its kind in the state, and probably the nation. There's no exaggerating the role they've played in defending the fort against closure.
Augusta wasn't alone in dodging the bullet. Fort Benning not only dodged the bullet, it's a huge winner, earmarked to add nearly 10,000 military and civilian jobs. Fort Gordon will probably grow, too, but those plans are still up in the air.
Both Georgia and South Carolina, as a whole, came out very well, though the Atlanta and Charleston areas took hits. The Department of Defense recommendations call for three facilities to shut down in the Atlanta area and two in Charleston.
Overall, however, Georgia will add about 7,500 military and civilian jobs statewide, and South Carolina will receive about 1,870 military and civilian jobs - offset, though, by 1,161 lost jobs at the Charleston facilities. Credit for this success in both states goes to civic and volunteer groups that organized and funded successful lobbying campaigns, as well as to the states' congressional delegations, which put aside partisan differences to save as many of their military installations as they could.
The question for the Augusta community now is, after having dodged the bullet, whether we're going to rest on our laurels or build on the good news by moving ahead on other fronts.
Yes, a bright future for Fort Gordon has apparently been assured, but the brightness of Augusta's future will largely be determined by what voters decide in a series of referenda to be held starting in June. In preserving Fort Gordon, Uncle Sam is, in effect, investing in Augusta as much as he is in the fort's ability to carry out vital national security missions.
Will we, as voters, have the same confidence in ourselves as Uncle Sam does? If we do, 2005 could turn out to be a much bigger story than saving Fort Gordon. It could mark a historic turning point for Augusta and the entire CSRA.
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